HISTORY OF THE AUBURN BAPTIST CHURCH
Mary Reese Frazer
(Transcribed from a pamphlet written in 1926)
In 1838, this part of the State was inhabited by the Creek Indians; they were not an antagonistic tribe, and were somewhat friendly with the white man.
One John Harper and his son, Jack, came into this part of the state of Alabama in 1833, in search of a new home, and new surroundings. Mr. Harper came from Harris County, Georgia.
There were no railroads at that time, so these two came on horseback, then the most convenient mode of travel for men and often women.
Elizabeth Taylor named the town of Auburn, Alabama
Throughout the country there were what was known as taverns or Inns.
Mr. Harper and his son stopped to spend the night at an Inn, kept by one Mr. Taylor, as the way was long, and it took more than a.day’s travel to complete their journey over here. In that Inn was a beautiful daughter of Mr. Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, who had much to do in shaping the destiny or rather the early history of our lovely village. She, in fact, named the town, Auburn.
Mr. Harper, I am told, was a very fine Christian gentleman, and was quite generous in his treaty with the Creeks. They were so pleased with the transaction that they agreed at once to vacate this, their former home, some going toward the East, and some going West, naming the towns, and rivers, and creeks as they chose. These towns and water courses still retain the beautiful Indian names.
Perry, Cawthon, and Harper – early settlers
Mr. Harper came in communication with one Mr. Simeon Perry, a Civil Engineer, whom he engaged to lay off the town. Mr. Perry was engaged in this work six months, he being so pleased with the location decided to build, and bring his family here.
The Cawthons now own the residence that Mr. Perry erected.
This generous man of God, Mr. Harper, made gifts of the church lots to the following denominations. To the Methodist (Mr. Harper was a Methodist) he gave the lot very nearly where the church now stands. It was dedicated in 1850. Of course the original church was a different structure to the present one.
To the Presbyterians Mr. Harper presented them the lot now used by the Y. W. C. A. That house was built by Mr. Edwin Reese, Mrs. Margaret Reese, and F. M. Reese, relatives of this scribe.
About 1857, or perhaps a little earlier, a Mr. McGreggor, a rich man, built the Episcopal Church. It was situated about where the library is. A very amusing incident took place, when the church was underway. The father of this scribe met a negro slave of Mr. McGreggor’s, who was hauling lumber for the building. Mr. Reese asked the negro what he was going to do with it. He answered, “Hits fur Mr. McGreggor’s Pisterpon Church,”
That church stood as a monument to that good man for many years.
Baptists were not very prominent in Auburn
The Baptist lot was where the laundry now is. The Baptists were not very prominent in Auburn at that time, so their first structure was a log house; their first preacher was a Mr. E. G. B. Thomas. His Mother dreamed three nights in succession that she was to have a son who would be a Baptist preacher. She also dreamed what his name was to be, The third night after this wonderful dream, Mrs. Thomas had her husband get up and write the name of her son, then unborn. This much named Divine was Edwin Champion Johnson Baptist Bowler Wheeler Nicholas Demer Steven Resdin Moore Thomas. It was said by some of the older citizens that Mr. Thomas was so afflicted with names that he proved to be a poor preacher, and he only remained a short while, returning to his home in Georgia. At that time services were only held once a month. This town was then on a boom, and after nearly fifteen years of much building it was finished, for more than twenty years.
The Auburn First Baptist Church, Auburn, Alabama ca. 1930’s (Alabama Department of Archives & History)
More settlers arrive
During the period of the boom many prominent and influential Baptists came in from all parts of the South. Among the number were the Swansons, Sales, Echols, Masons, and a Mr. Thomas Slaton. There were many others that the writer of this history does not recall.
The above named Baptists, it has been said, were not pleased with the situation of the first church, so they purchased the lot where the Baptist Church now stands.
The second church was an old fashioned wooden structure,, with a long front porch, two entrances, one for the men and the other for the women and children. The pulpit, an old box concern with steps on either end, and doors to close the preacher in securely. The church, according to my recollection, seated about two hundred people, including the negroes, who entered from the back of the church and occupied the back pews. (There were no negro churches in those days).
Memory back to 1854
The writer of this history remembers as far back as 1854, and to her young memory, the music was good. A Mrs. Patrick Swanson was the organist, and the organ was an old fashion melodeon. Mrs. Swanson said she would play if a curtain was drawn in front of her, so that no one could see her. She was a modest and timid woman. To gratify this dear little woman, the melodeon was placed in the center of the church, and a green curtain drawn in front of the singers and organist.
After this church was completed, in about 1837, or perhaps a little later, the good men of the church decided to call a young man from Savannah, Georgia, Reverend Albert Williams. He moved here with his family, but for some reason unknown to this scribe, he resigned, and in the early 50’s Moved to Montgomery, where he lived for many years, and died there, having left the ministry. He was a very wealthy man. So the new church was left pastorless.
In 1852 the Reverend Mr. William Williams called. (Brother of Albert Williams). Mr. Williams accepted the call and for several years was a most acceptable minister, a very highly educated man, who was graduated in law, from Princeton.
A strange romance is woven around the life of this young polished gentleman.
Mr. Williams was brought up in Savannah, Georgia, his father was a very rich man and owned a very large cotton factory. At that time there were but few such factories in the South.
After Mr. Williams’ graduation he came home for the summer. One morning he walked over to see how things were going along in the Williams Factory, and going from one department to the other he came into the spinning room. There he saw a pretty black haired girl busy at her wheel. He was so pleased with her appearance that he introduced himself to her. She, not knowing that she should return the compliment, only modestly nodded her head; he asked her to tell him her name, which she said was Ruth Bell.
A friendship soon sprang up between these two, and he began to bring such books as he though she could read and understand, and always after that the manager would see a new book upon the wheel of Ruth Bell, the poor factory spinner. After a while he asked Ruth’s father to allow him to visit his daughter. The father refused this request and warned his daughter against the young man’s flattering attentions.
In spite of these protests, Mr. Williams would go to the little factory home to see this girl of his choice, and all the family would sit with them during the evening. Ruth, her mother and sisters always brought their knitting and plied their needles very diligently. At last the climax came, and Mr. Williams asked for the hand of this modest factory girl. The Williams family refused to accept such a fact, but in spite, of the protests of his fashionable and aristocratic sisters, he told them that the wedding would come off. So his sisters accepted the situation and began to purchase a beautiful, and useful trousseau for the bride-to-be. They took her in their home and taught her many useful lessons and in about 1845 Mr. Williams married this young factory girl. They immediately left for New York, and there he placed his young wife in the best school, and remained with her until she finished.
Went into the ministry
He, in the meantime, was gloriously converted and went into the ministry in New York where he also graduated.
As was stated before, Mr. Williams came to this charge in 1852, bringing his wife and several children with him.
He occupied the house now owned by Amos Cox. I think at that time the Baptists owned that residence.
While Mr. Williams was in this work here, he was elected to a chair in Penfield, Georgia, now Mercer University. Afterwards he was elected as President of the Baptist Theological Seminary, then at Greenville, S. C. He lived and died at that work.
The second church was again without a shepherd, and for sometime its doors were closed. After the resignation of Mr. Williams, the wise heads of our small denomination, again began to cast about for another man, and the choice that time was an old man, known as Parson Jones.
About the year 1855 this dear old man of God came with his family from Tuskegee.
As there were only two services a month, the Parson supplemented his salary by teaching the Masonic Female School, then in a flourishing condition here.
Parson Jones was a peace loving old man. Some of his members would not speak to each other. One morning in the pulpit he reprimanded them severely, and said, “I hear some of you don’t speak to one another; why I would be ashamed of myself, I would speak to the Devil. I would say, good morning, Devil, and walk on.” He had a high whining voice. The old Parson was here for several years. After he resigned the church began to be depleted, as to numbers, and the remaining few were rather indifferent as to the work; none of the men could be induced to open Sunday School, so the Mother of this scribe, Mrs. Reese, and Mrs. Drake did that service for quite a while.
Wrote a ridiculous book
In 1858, perhaps, a man by the name of Toliferro, was called. He never brought his family here, as he owned his home in Tuskegee.
His love of humor and fun was a great drawback to his usefulness. He wrote a very ridiculous book, called “Skit”. It had quite a wide circulation. Mr. Reese, Father of this scribe, said it was a wonderful production of wit and humor. As Mr. Toliferro grew older and more serious, he became ashamed of this production, and made every effort to secure the books from parties who owned them, and burned them. This dear old man was a welcome guest in the homes of his people. He kept all the family roaring with laughter at his side-splitting jokes. Mr. Toliferro served the church here for several years. After he resigned, he returned to his humble little home in Tuskegee, where he died at a ripe old age.
Had sneezing disease
For a long while the church was closed. Then in or around 1859 or ’60, one Mr. Harden was secured, a good preacher, and a very consecrated man. He had a most Distracting case of hay fever; at times he could scarcely preach for sneezing. Hay fever was not known then by such a name, so he had what was called sneezing disease.
Mr. Harden was a Georgian: He died young with T.B. I think he served his church about two years, and was the last of the old guard.
In 1861 the Civil war with all the horrors was upon the Southland and for four years the dear old church was without a shepherd. It was used as a hospital, and filled with sick and dying soldiers.
In 1864, a very terrible storm swept the town, killing several, and leveling many homes. The roof of the church was blown down, resting upon the pews. The house was filled with sick and wounded men, but not one was hurt. Of course the roof was raised and I think the soldiers still remained in the building until the war clouds passed over, which was in 1865.
Too poor to have services
After that terrible conflict, Auburn, as well as the entire South was desolate for many months, or for several years. The members were too poor even to have services, and for a long while the doors of the old church were closed.
But a Baptist will not always remain down and under. He will after a while arise when the opportunity presents itself. So 1866, or ’67, Mr. Alexander Frazer moved in from the country and seeing the sad condition of the old house, said, “We must have a new church. It shall be built if it cost me a thousand dollars.” The little remnant, inspired by the blessed Mr. Frazer, began to look around and see what could be done. With the thousand dollars and small contributions from the members and outside help, the third church was erected.
Called LaPlass, Alabama
About the year 1868, the Reverend M. W. E. Lloyd was called from LaPlass, Alabama, Mr. Lloyd was not an educated man, but was considered a pretty good preacher by those who thought themselves judges. He served these people for a long while, preaching once a month.
This being a college town, perhaps Mr. Lloyd felt his lack of education, so after a while (I don’t recall what year) he resigned, and attended the Baptist Seminary. He was there for two years, I believe. After his return from the Seminary, he was recalled to this charge again, serving in all twenty-two years.
New church began
In 1892, the new church was begun. The lumber was furnished from the Plantation of T. 0. Wright, and prepared by Mrs. Wright’s father, Mr. Parkinson, who was at that time in the lumber business.
After Mr. Lloyd’s resignation, Dr. I. T. Tichenor, President of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, often occupied the pulpit, and always led in prayer meeting.
Dr. Isaac Taylor Tichenor (Auburn University Libraries)
It was a great privilege to listen to Dr. Tichenor’s wonderful sermons, they were both inspiring and instructive. Dr. Tichenor had occupied the pulpit in Montgomery for many years, also in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Under date of February 8, 1879, the church called the Reverend J. S. Dill. He was then closing his course of study at the Seminary at Louisville, Ky. The call was accepted, to begin work at the close of the Seminary session. The salary specified was $600.00, the church failed to raise the amount, so the salary was supplemented with $200.00 from the Hotne Board.”
This quotation from a letter from Pastor Dill, who preached his first sermon in Auburn, May 25, 1879. Taking his first meal at the home of Mrs. Reece, her daughter, Mrs. Frazer, said to him, “Why you are not nearly so ugly as I expected, from reports that preceded you.” This was indeed encouraging to the new pastor.
Married Miss Lymon of Montevallo
Mr. Dill married Miss Laura Lymon, of Montevallo, Alabama, November 4, 1879. In a few months the dear young wife developed an incurable disease. The pastor took her to her home in Montevallo, and after much suffering she lingered for several months. Our pastor resigned his charge here and after her death in February, 1881, the church then recalled Mr. Dill, and he promptly returned to his former charge and continued his ministry until the close of that year. All reluctantly gave Mr. Dill up, and he took charge of the church at Union Springs. Mr. Dill was much beloved by all his people here.
After Mr. Dill’s resignation Dr. Lloyd returned and took charge for a short while. Again Mr. Lloyd resigned. After this we called the much beloved young graduate from this Institution, Rev. W. M. Blackwelder. He only served one year, from September, 1883, to September 1884. Mr. Blackwelder is indeed a precious memory to the few of the old members.
After Mr. Blackwelder left us, Mr. Lloyd came back and served the church a short while.
August 2, 1892, James Wisdom Willis was called. He served us only two years. On March 3, 1895, Rev. Mr. Cloud came, and did his best until 1900. He then resigned and returned to his old home at Shorters where he died soon after leaving here. A dear good old man he was.
When Mr. Cloud left this charge, Mr. A. Y. Napier was called, this was in 1901. He remained with us until 1904. He was called to a church in Montgomery. From there he went as a Missionary to China, where he now is, and for years has been wedded to that great mission. Mr. Napier was a very earnest Christian gentleman, and we loved him.
Remained only two years
In 1904, Rev. Mr. Condy Pough came to lead these people, and a wonderful teacher he was. Together with his consecrated young wife they built up the church greatly. To the sorrow of the entire congregation, Mr. Pough remained only two years, and on June 1, 1906, he bade us a fond farewell, to take charge of a church in Mississippi.
Rev. Mr. Murry Edwards came September 1, 1906, and for fourteen-years he was a faithful servant of God. Mr. Edwards was a consecrated man, was beloved by many of his flock. He resigned after fourteen years of service here. He was called to take charge of the Baptist church in Tuscumbia, where he has done a great work, and is still the pastor of that church.
Now last but not least, Rev. Mr. E. W. Holmes came to this charge in October, 1921, and resigned after five years of good service. Mr. Holmes together with the spiritual Miss Leland Cooper, has the finest organized B. Y. P. U. of any other in the state.
Mr. Holmes was a power among the young college boys and girls. Many were brought to Christ by his and Miss Cooper’s influence and teaching.
Mr. Holmes, like our dear Lord, went about doing good. The writer of this paper will ever hold him in grateful memory for his prayers and sympathy in times of sorrow. His wife, too, was a wonderful inspiration to the W. M. U. and young women whom she taught.
New building on the same lot
The Baptist are now agitating greatly for erection of a $100,000.00 church on the same lot where for many years very plain houses of worship have stood. This, when built, will be the fifth Baptist church built by the people of Auburn, Alabama.
Mr. and Mrs. Dill have expressed a desire to place in the new church a memorial window to their Father, Dr. I. T. Tichenor. Mrs. Dill is the second daughter of Dr. I. T. Tichenor, and spent much of her girlhood in Auburn, and in the Baptist Church. This window will indeed be an acceptable gift from these dear people of God and will be a fitting reminder of. the loving and generous service of that great and good man.
Gift of $500.00
Mr. T. G. Bush, of Birmingham, was born in Auburn. Her father was the second pastor of the Baptist Church. Her uncle, Mr. William Williams was the third pastor. Mrs. Bush, a wonderfully consecrated woman, has just presented to the Baptist denomination a check of $500.00, greatly appreciated by the entire church. This gift was in memorial of her father and uncle.
A new pastor, Dr. Edwards, was called on the 3rd of October, 1926. He has accepted the call,^and will take charge November 1, 1926. No doubt this man of God will be a great inspiration in the building of the new church. For with a long strong pull, all together, much can be accomplished through Him whose promises never fail.
Let co-operation be our watchword, and all will be well.
- The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 08, No. 01, Spring Issue 1946.